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How to Develop Interpersonal Skills

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People use interpersonal skills daily -- socially as well as professionally -- and usually without even being conscious of their effectiveness. In the workplace, listening, communicating, collaborating and etiquette are important interpersonal skills. An employee who falls short in any of these soft skills must work consciously to strengthen and develop them. Otherwise, the worker who can’t get along with superiors and co-workers may find himself passed over for promotions and even first in line for downsizing.

Listen Up

Active listening is a skill that must be learned and practiced, to avoid simply letting the speaker’s message drift past. The active listener provides feedback by focusing their full attention on the speaker and responding with verbal and non-verbal clues that the speaker’s message is heard and understood. Maintaining eye contact, smiling and nodding are appropriate indicators, as are paraphrasing in your own words or summarizing the speaker’s message at the end.

Failure to Communicate

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Simply talking to people, or talking at them, is no guarantee that your message is getting across. Common barriers to communication are lack of verbal cues; cultural differences; lack of interest or distractions; and jargon or unfamiliar expressions. Anticipate such barriers and deal with them. Learn to think before you speak, and express yourself clearly and carefully. Speak slowly and stay calm and focused. Control your non-verbal communication -- facial expressions, body language, posture and eye contact. Practice in front of a mirror until your appearance conveys poise and confidence.

Get It Together

Collaboration is a key to workplace productivity, and working successfully with others can make or break a career. Create an environment of cooperation, rather than competition, and respect the opinions of others, regardless of their status in the company hierarchy. Praise and thank co-workers for their contributions and treat all suggestions and opinions with respect. When necessary, step in to peacefully settle disputes among colleagues.

Mind Your Manners

Underlying all of these interpersonal skills are the rules of basic etiquette and good manners. Rude behavior reflects badly on the boor as well as on the company he represents. As industry advances globally, even employees in a small company may need to work with people from other cultures, where respect for those differences can enhance a relationship. Be aware of what is happening in your co-workers’ lives and express congratulations or condolences when called for. Keep a cheerful, upbeat outlook and don’t be a chronic whiner who brings down the morale of the whole office.


As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.

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